Judge orders release of young Afghan detainee

The Justice Department must now decide whether to try the terror suspect, now in Guantánamo, in US courts or let him return to Afghanistan.

A federal judge in Washington has ordered the release of a young Afghan who has spent nearly one-third of his life at the Guantánamo Bay terror prison camp.

US District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle ordered the release of Mohammed Jawad on Thursday after ruling that there was no legal basis for his continued detention by the US military.

The decision is a victory for lawyers who have worked for years to win Mr. Jawad's release, but the victory may be short lived.

Government lawyers say Attorney General Eric Holder has asked for an investigation of the Jawad case with an eye toward putting him on trial in a US courtroom. A decision has not yet been made.

At the same time, government officials are also in contact with Afghan authorities to discuss Jawad's possible return to Afghanistan in late August.

Judge Huvelle acknowledged that the government could put Jawad on trial, but she urged Justice Department lawyers to consider that Jawad had already spent 6-1/2 years behind bars at Guantánamo.

"After this horrible, long, tortured history, I hope the government will succeed in getting him back home," Huvelle said, according to an Associated Press account of the hearing. "Enough has been imposed on this young man to date."

Jawad is accused of throwing a grenade that wounded two US Special Forces soldiers and an interpreter in December 2002.

After the incident, he was held in an Afghan prison where his lawyers say he was tortured into confessing falsely that he threw the grenade. He was transferred to Guantánamo in early 2003.

Jawad's lawyers say he was only about 12 years old at the time he was arrested for the grenade attack. Defense officials say bone tests suggest he was closer to 17 years old.

Huvelle gave the government until late August to release Jawad. The delay is mandated under a recent congressional provision requiring that Congress be given notification before any Guantánamo detainee is released.

The notification must include an assessment of any potential national security threat posed by the individual.

Under the congressional provision, the earliest possible release date for Jawad is Aug. 21.

Prior to Thursday's hearing, the government made public a significant quantity of reports and documents related to the Jawad case. Many were almost entirely blacked out by government censors to prevent the public release of sensitive information.

Among the documents was a printed translation of Jawad's alleged written confession. It notes his age as being 18 at the time of the attack. It says in part: "I through[sic] the bomb at them, I'm very regretful that one Afghan Interpreter has been injured, and if any foreigner past[sic] away I'm very happy."

An FBI investigative report, written shortly after Jawad's arrival at Guantánamo in February 2003, shows that Jawad told an agent that after his arrest Northern Alliance officials beat him into confessing.

Jawad told the FBI agent that another man threw the two grenades into the vehicle. Jawad said he did not see who was in the vehicle, but that he screamed "There is a bomb." The other man disappeared in the crowd. Jawad was arrested by police and interrogated, Jawad told the FBI.

Jawad's files show extensive efforts to obtain more detailed information through repeated interrogations at Guantánamo. Records show that Jawad was subject to a sleep deprivation technique called the "frequent flyer program." At one point Guantánamo guards moved him from cell to cell 112 times within a two-week period. This regime required him to be shackled, moved, and unshackled on average once every two hours and 50 minutes.

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